The Cuba I Know
By Rosa Jordan
What did I know about Cuba when I first began traveling there 15 years ago? Practically nothing. I did not know, for example, that the nation of Cuba is not one island but approximately 4000. Or that the coastline of its largest island is more than 5000 kilometres long. When I decided it would be fun to cycle that coastline, I thought it would be easy. Only after setting out did I discover Cuba’s four major mountain ranges, two of which run right down to the sea. All that riding took me a while, and led to the first guide to biking in Cuba, Lonely Planet’s Cycling Cuba.
Last year I compiled Cuba's Best Beaches. By then I knew more about the island than its geography; knew that lovely though it is, Cuba’s very best thing is its people. They are neither shy nor aggressive, and they are helpful to a fault. They are not rich but neither are they abjectly poor, and regardless of their economic status, they are generous. They are not anti-American (or anti-anybody for that matter.) In a word, they are unique. In an attempt to give visitors some insight into the way things are in Cuba for Cubans, I wrote The Woman She Was, a novelin which all the characters are Cuban. It was followed with my non-fiction Cuba Unspun. Both books, which came out in 2012, attempt to capture the essence of 21st Century Cuba.
None of my books purport to tell anybody “what it’s like.” They only reveal how I have experienced Cuba, in country and over time, in such diverse areas as homestays, hitchhiking, health care, homosexuality, homeland security, national heroes, and more. What insights I have—to the degree that what I have written can be considered insights—came from island Cubans I have met over the course of fifteen years. There is no single way to characterize them, but my partner perhaps came closest when he remarked, a few thousand kilometres into one of our cycling trips, “Cuba has the highest ratio of human beings to assholes of anyplace I have ever been.”